A facelift freshens up the looks of Mazda’s mid-size crossover, but it’s what’s inside that counts
SINGAPORE — In many ways, Mazda is the most European of Japan’s automakers. If you need an example, just look at the facelifted CX-5.
Before that, how can you tell if you’re looking at a facelift model? Easiest way, if you ask me, is to look at the grille: instead of a honeycomb pattern, it now has horizontal slats. Much classier than before, to my eyes, particularly since they’re painted metallic grey as well.
Here would be a good place to mention the various versions on sale, because the basic 2.0L Standard, at $152,888 with COE, comes without the redesigned lamps.
Add $8,000 for an upgrade to the Premium version, and you get powered seats (with memory), parking sensors front and rear, a fancier sound system and keyless engine starting. You also get redesigned lamps with LEDs in them.
A further $6,000 (we’re at $166,888 now) gets you the 2.5L Luxury model you see here, and the range topper is a 2.2L turbodiesel with all wheel drive, for $187,888.
As for those new lamps, there’s a sort of smile-shaped LED strip inside them now, giving the Mazda daytime running lights with a “visual signature”, to use designerspeak. You’ll find the same thing on the Mazda6, incidentally.
At the opposite end, new taillights (also rich with LEDs) more or less complete the exterior revamp.
But that’s not where the Mazda folk called it a day and went out for an early round of sake.
If anything, the interior has changed much more. It’s still sporty and driver-centric, but noticeably more upmarket now. The parking brake has become an electric, button-operated item, and the dashboard has gained some metallic-looking strips. With soft plastics and nicely-stitched leather, the CX-5’s cabin wouldn’t really wouldn’t look out of place in a BMW 3 Series.
The satnav system loses its buttons too, but only because it’s now fully-integated with Mazda’s rotary Human-Machine Interface controller.
That makes it a breeze to operate. Twist here, turn there, nudge the knob this way or the other, and you can usually find want you want pretty quickly.
A note about the satnav: keying in destinations can be tricky, because you have to enter a town name, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. In what town, for example, do you find the CarBuyer HQ on Tagore Lane?
Another thing I would have changed is the lack of rear air-con vents, which might put off some family buyers. Mind you, the air-con system itself is plenty powerful, and as a car for family use the CX-5 has other strengths.
The long wheelbase (at 2,700mm, Mazda says it’s the longest in the class) creates plenty of legroom, and the way the roofline goes, there’s a large amount of headroom in the back.
The rear seats don’t recline but they do fold in a 40:20:40 split, letting you take boot space from 403 litres (even with a full-size spare tyre under the floor) to 1,560 litres. Mazda says you can heave two mountain bikes (with front wheels off) into there, but even with the seats upright the CX-5 will apparently swallow four Samsonites.
There’s nothing to complain about in terms of how the CX-5 drives, either. The suspension is taut while the steering is precise, with a satisfying amount of weight to the action. It rides much more comfortably on the standard 17-inch wheels than the 2.5 model’s 19-inchers, but overall the suspension doesn’t try to rearrange your spine.
Also worthy of praise is the six-speed auto, which is so smooth that it leaves you scratching your head as to how Mazda managed to make it work so silkily.
But here’s another thing to scrape your scalp about: is the 2.5-litre model is worth paying for? The engine’s extra poke over the 2.0 is noticeable, particularly around the mid-range of the rev counter, but ultimately the two cars are pretty close on pace.
If anything, the 2.5 is a little too punchy, sometimes making the front wheels chirp as the tyres scrabble for traction.
Mind you, the 2.5 Luxury does come with a host of active safety features that the 2.0 doesn’t. They’re part of a suite of systems that Mazda calls “i-Activesense”, and basically they keep a watchful eye on your driving.
Start to stray into another lane without signalling, and the CX-5 warns you (either with a buzzer or by vibrating the steering wheel, it’s your choice) or gently eases you back into line.
There’s a blind spot monitor that beeps to warn you if you’re about to swing into someone you didn’t see alongside you, too.
All that effort into preventing accidents is one of the things that makes Mazda very European, because carmakers there are now focusing hard on saving drivers from themselves (though if you do crash badly, the CX-5 has six airbags).
The other obsession that Continental carmakers have at the moment is fuel efficiency, an area that the CX-5 excels at, too. It’s actually the first model crafted along the lines of Mazda’s “SkyActiv” philosophy, and it’s still pretty frugal. Unless we caned the engine, we kept things pretty close to the claim of 6.9L/100km.
For all that, our recommendation is the 2.0L Premium. It’s even more frugal (6.4L/100km), rides better over bumps, and the engine should be a better match for the amount of traction available. But whichever version of the CX-5 you choose, it’s clear that the facelift has only served to hone a car that was pretty sharp to begin with.
And if you’ve ever eaten at a steakhouse in Tokyo or had a plate of spaghetti with mentaiko, you know that the Japanese can do European flavours well.
Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0
NEED TO KNOW Mazda CX-5 2.5L Luxury
ENGINE 2,488cc in-line four, 16V, direct-injection
MAX POWER 192bhp at 5,700rpm
MAX TORQUE 256Nm at 3,250rpm
GEARBOX six-speed auto
TOP SPEED 198km/h
0-100KM/H 9.2 seconds
FUEL EFFICIENCY 6.9L/100km
PRICE $166,888 with COE
What does “SkyActiv” do?
To save significant amounts of fuel, you can take a magic bullet approach and equip your cars with a dramatic technology like hybrid drive. Or, to take Mazda’s approach, you could chip away at fuel consumption, introducing a number of small savings that together, add up to a meaningfully smaller appetite for petrol or diesel.
Much like BMW’S ‘EfficientDynamics’ catchphrase, Mazda’s SkyActiv is a sort of umbrella term for just such an engineering approach. It involves combing through every component of a car to look for weight reduction and improved efficiency, with the hope that small improvements in many areas will lead to big savings at the pumps, while making the cars fun to drive.
The CX-5’s petrol engines, for instance, run a very high compression ratio of 13:1, which apparently knocks 15 percent off their fuel consumption.
The automatic gearbox, meanwhile, locks up its torque convertor 90 percent of the time — that helps it feel more like a manual gearbox in terms of making the car’s power delivery feel direct, but it also shaves the fuel bill by a further 7 percent.
Weight loss is another area of serious effort. Mazda boasts that the power amp in the Bose sound system weighs just 900 grammes, for instance.
Around 60 percent of the car’s body is made of high-strength steel, a material so strong that carmakers can use less of it, compared to how much normal steel they would normally employ.
Add it all up, and the result is fuel consumption lower than you’d expect for a car of the CX-5’s size and performance. The approach shows that when it comes to what can be done to save fuel, the sky’s the limit.